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Sculpting a precedent by sculpting a President! Vinnie Ream set a record in the US in 1866

July 28, On This Day  


 On July 28, 1866 — 156 years ago — at the age of 18, Lavinia Ellen ‘Vinnie’ Ream Hoxie became the first and youngest female artist to receive a commission from the United States government for a statue (of Abraham Lincoln). She had become an apprentice at well-known sculptor Clark Mills’s studio just two years prior, in 1864.

That same year, President Lincoln agreed to model for her in the morning for five months, and she created a bust of his figure. During this time, Ream also began intense public relations efforts, selling photographs of herself and soliciting newspaper attention as a marketing strategy.

She then used this bust of Lincoln as her entry into the selection contest for the full-size sculpture. Soon, Ream was awarded commission for the full-size Carrara marble statue of Lincoln by a vote of Congress.

There was significant debate over her selection as the sculptor, citing concern over her inexperience and slanderous accusations that she was a “lobbyist” (or a public woman of questionable reputation). She was known for her beauty and her conversational skills, which likely contributed to these accusations.

Ream went on to study in Rome, where once again she faced controversial rumors that claimed that it was the Italian workmen and not Ream who were responsible for her successful sculpture of Lincoln.

When the statue was complete, Ream returned to Washington. On January 25, 1871, her white marble statue of United States President Abraham Lincoln was unveiled in the United States Capitol rotunda, when Ream was only 23 years old.

In 1878, Ream married Richard L. Hoxie, of the US Army Corps of Engineers. Her work would basically cease during her marriage because Richard felt it wasn’t proper for a Victorian wife to earn money, and she followed his wishes.